Do BCAAs have calories?
Countless times we have seen this question get asked by people trying to build muscle or lose fat and, usually, incorrectly answered, which is why we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to settling this debate once and for all.
But before we do that, let’s quickly look at what BCAAs actually are.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are amino acids which have a non-continuous link of carbon bonds (i.e. a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms).
The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are classed as essential amino acids, which means that they must be ingested by humans since they cannot be made by our bodies.
Unlike whole proteins or most other amino acids, BCAAs are, generally, not metabolized by the liver directly but, instead, are transported to muscle tissues where they are oxidized by the muscles.
Do BCAAs have calories?
Okay, so let’s get to the point! Do BCAAs have calories?
Yes, they absolutely do!
According to scientific research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, BCAAs have the following approximate caloric values:
Leucine: 4.65 calories per gram
Isoleucine: 4.65 calories per gram
Valine: 4.64 calories per gram
The numbers above can be derived by taking the metabolizable energy values of the three amino acids using the three sets (1-3) and calculating their averages.
With the above caloric values in mind, this means that one gram of BCAAs at the typical 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine, respectively, contains around 4.65 calories, while 10 grams of BCAAs contain around 46.5 calories.
Why is my BCAA supplement labelled as having 0 calories?
Having established that BCAAs do, in fact, contain calories, it makes sense that your next question is:
“If BCAAs have calories, then why does the label on my BCAA supplement state 0 calories?”
The reason most supplement manufacturers don’t list the calories from BCAAs in their products is simply because they kind of have to, since:
- the FDA regulations state that supplement manufacturers can’t declare the protein content of a product when this only contains individual amino acids.
- the FDA regulations allow supplement manufacturers to calculate the caloric content of their products using a number of methods, including the Atawater method, which involves adding up the calories from protein (4 kcal/g), carbs (4 kcal/gram) and fats (9 kcal/gram).
Simply put, if a product only contains free form amino acids and no carbs or fats, it technically is listed as having 0 protein (and 0 carbs and fats, of course) and, therefore, 0 calories.
So there you have it!
The next time you see a debate on whether BCAAs have calories, help us do some myth-busting by sharing this article!